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In Chapter 13 of the Leviathan on " The Natural Condition 
of Mankind " is found Hobbes' doctrine of the state of nature 
as it is generally known'. This may be briefly summed up as 
follows : In faculties of mind and body, men are, on the whole, 
so nearly equal that one cannot claim for himself any benefit 
to Which another may not pretend as well as he. From this 
equality of ability arises equality of hope in attaining' ends de- 
sired. "And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, 
which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they became ene- 
mies." There are three principal causes of quarrel among 
men; first, the desire for gain; second, for safety, and third, 
for glory. Hence where there is no common power to keep 
men in awe, " they are in that condition called war, and such 
a war as is of every man against every man." This war need 
not be constant conflict, since " the nature of war consists not 
in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during 
all the time there is no assurance to the contrary." In such a 
state of war, actual or potential, the condition of man is most 
unfortunate and deplorable. " The life of man in such a 
state," says Hobbes, " is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and 

In this condition, furthermore, there is no right and no 
wrong; no justice and no injustice, since these qualities relate 
to men in society, and not in solitude. In the state of nature, 
force and fraud are the cardinal virtues. Every man has a 
right to What he can get, and for just so long as he can keep it. 
Out of this state of nature and into a political condition, 
Hobbes proposed to bring men by means of a social contract, 
the essential condition of which was the absolute surrender 
of the power and the judgment of all individuals concerned to 
a sovereign body, individual or collective in its character. 



Regarding this doctrine, it has generally been stated that 
Hobbes developed here a novel and original idea of the state 
of nature as a state of war; that a characteristic feature of his 
work was the emphasis placed on the selfish element and the 
failure to recognize the existence of social qualities in human 
nature ; and, furthermore, that this theory, so understood, was 
Wholly untenable, both logically and historically. 

The purpose of this paper is to examine Hobbes' doctrine of 
the state of nature in order to determine, first, how far this 
idea was original with Hobbes; second, to what extent the 
doctrine was consistently maintained ; third, what was the his- 
torical justification and explanation of the theory. 

It would, in the first place, be inaccurate to attribute to 
Hobbes the origination of the doctrine that the state of nature 
is a state of war. This idea was much older than the Sage 
of Malmesbury. Theology had long asserted that man be- 
gan with Paradise, but by Adam's fall was plunged into a 
state of woe. The violence and sinfulness of man was pre- 
sented by the early Fathers of the church as the primary cause 
of the establishmait of government. The influence of Aris- 
totle upon medieval political thought was strong enough to 
drive this doctrine into the background or at least to compel 
a reconciliation in scholastic style, as seen in the teaching of 
Thomas Aquinas; but the Calvinistic theology of Hobbes' 
time and place had revived this old doctrine in its most com- 
plete form. The natural 'condition of man was declared wholly 
sinful and vile. As one of the writers phrased it " Man's na- 
ture is as full of sin as an egg is full of meat." His weakness 
and wickedness, moreover, were not confined to spiritual 
things, but extended to include the demoralization of his 
whole being. The natural state of man, from the Puritan 
viewpoint, was a wholly desolate one; and all men in such a 
condition were at war, not only with each other, but with the 
Creator and the whole creation. Out of this condition man 
could emerge only by an act of grace — by a compact in which 
he surrendered himself and his natural right to do everything 
and received in return a guaranteed right to do anything he 
ought to do, — " right " being what the spiritual sovereign de- 
clared to be right. 


This doctrine in its political form was boldly advanced by 
the Puritan contemporaries of Thomas Hobbes. The most 
famous of these, John Milton, declared that states were formed 
" to avoid the discord and violence that sprang from Adam's 
transgression ;" and that magistrates were chosen " to exe- 
cute that justice which else every man by the bond 

of nature and of covenant must have executed for himself and 
for another." 

In brief, then, Hobbes' doctrine of the war of all against 
all was only an application: of the current theological doctrine 
of the religious " state of nature " to political philosophy. By 
mere nature men were irreligious ; so by mere nature Hobbes 
regarded them as unpolitical. By compact with God men at- 
tained spiritual peace; so by mutual compact with each other 
they obtained civil peace. The state of nature was a device 
borrowed from' the neighboring, and, to Hobbes, familiar field 
of theology. 

In the next place, how 1 far did Hobbes consistently maintain 
his doctrine. At the close of his discussion of the state of 
nature, Hobbes observes " Thus much for the ill condition 
which man by mere nature is actually placed in ; though with 
a possibility to 'come out of it, consisting partly in the pas- 
sions, partly in his reason." Hobbes proceeds then, to show 
that even in this desperate state of nature there are three kinds 
of passion that impel men to abandon it. First, the fear of 
death ; second, the desire of such things as are necessary to' pro- 
mote a living; third, a hope by industry to obtain them. Not 
only is this true, but " reason suggesteth convenient articles 
of peace." The fundamental law of nature imposes upon the 
natural man somie fourteen commandments to observe. These 
are ( I ) that every man' ought to seek peace; (2) that he should 
be willing to give up his right to all things, provided other 
men do the same; (3) that men perform their covenants made; 
(4) to be grateful for a favor rendered; (5) and, singularly 
enough for a state of war, the command of complaisance or 
adaptability. " The observers of this law," says Hobbes, 
"may be called sociable; the contrary, stubborn, unsociable, 
forward, and intractable;" (6) to pardon past offences; (7) 


to punish only for future good; (8) forbidding open declaration 
of hatred or contempt for others; (9) forbidding pride; (10) 
forbidding arrogance; (11) commanding equity; (12) com- 
manding common ownership of things divisible; (13) com- 
manding respect towards mediators; (14) commanding sub- 
mission of controversies to arbitration. To these laws Hobbes 
added, in "A Review and Conclusion," to " protect in war the 
power that protecteth in peace." And, finally, all these laws 
may be summed up in one law, " intelligible even to the mean- 
est capacity " — " Do not that to another, which thou wouldst 
not have done to thyself." These laws of nature are " im- 
mutable and eternal," but oblige only " in foro interno," that 
is to say " to a desire that they should take peace ;" and not " in 
foro externo," that is " to the putting them in action always." 
Still they oblige, and are intelligible. 

It appears, then, that the fundamental law of nature com- 
mands all men, not only to be peaceable, but even to be com- 
plaisant and social. Even in the state of war, Nature com- 
mands the belligerents to> be socially minded and love one an- 
other. In short, Hobbes declared that man is actually selfish 
and hostile to his fellows, and that the state of nature is a war 
of all against all, yet, almost in the same breath, he conceded 
that both passion and reason impel man to seek the society 
of his fellows. 

To assert, then, that Hobbes " ignored the fact of sociabil- 
ity," as has been said, is unwarranted by an examination of 
his philosophy. Hobbes himself in. his Philosophical Rudi- 
ments (p. 2) says of man that " as soon as he is born, solitude 
is an enemy." " I deny not," said he, "that men (even mere 
nature compelling) desire to 1 come together." Elsewhere, he 
said that man is born inapt for society, merely because born 
an infant. He becomes fit for society " not by nature, but by 
education," although some " remain unfit during the whole 
course of their lives." 

What Hobbes really said was that the natural state of man 
would be unsocial and warlike, if it were not for certain na- 
tural instincts and for natural reason' which made him social 
and peaceful; in other words, man would be naturally unpoli- 


tical, if he did not possess irresistable inclinations to become 
political. From another point of view, the natural man was 
man at his worst ; — -when he followed his better instincts or his 
reason he became unnatural or artificial. In this, Hobbes fol- 
lowed the Puritan tendency to regard the " natural " as the es- 
sentially bad, and the good as the essentially non^natural. 

It is just here that the contrast between Hobbes and Aris- 
totle is most pronounced. When Aristotle declared that man 
is by nature a political animal, he meant " natural " in the 
sense that only in this political state could he live the well- 
rounded and perfect life. The natural signified to him the 
normal, the typical. When Hobbes said that man' is by 
nature unpolitical, he meant that, abstracting certain instincts 
of man, and considering these alone, and regarding these 
selected attributes as constituting human nature, that then, man 
is naturally unpolitical ; admitting, however, at the same time 
that in order to live what Aristotle called the " good life," 
man must be political and, furthermore, that natural law so 
commands him. Hobbes' " nature " was a special part of 
human nature treated apart, for a particular purpose. In 
reality, Hobbes and Aristotle agreed perfectly that man is 
normally a social and political being, but Hobbes insisted upon 
considering only a part of man's lowest instincts as " natural," 
while Aristotle included the higher as well as the lower. 

In this doctrine, Hobbes agreed with the Naturrecht school 
in general, although he was personally hostile to the Revolu- 
tionary movement. The explanation of this attitude is fairly 
clear, when we consider the fundamental purpose of the liberal 
thinkers. Historically considered, the task of the democratic 
theorists was to find a form of justification for resistance to 
organized and established government. With this end in 
view, they entered on an examination of the foundation of 
government and the philosophy of obedience. In opposition 
to divine right, hereditary privilege, custom, tradition, " the 
mystery that doth hedge about a king," they declared that gov- 
ernment was essentially artificial in its character, — a voluntary, 
conscious product of human intelligence and will ; and they as- 
serted that, since the state was a human creation', just powers 


of government could be obtained only by the consent of those 
creating it. Practically all of the 17th and 18th century theor- 
ists of the liberal school agreed in pronouncing the civil state 
as unnatural. Man might possess all manner of qualities or 
virtues, except that in no event might he naturally possess 
political characteristics. Singularly enough, the normal man 
upon whom their political theory rested, was considered as de- 
void of every political feeling or instinct, and was regarded 
as essentially unpolitical. As in the case of Hobbes, however, 
a closer examination reveals the fact that this process of rea- 
soning really involved the division of human nature into two 
parts. Although " naturally " man is a stranger to' political 
life and looks askance at government, as one whoi would not 
foe entangled in its net, yet he possesses irresistible impulses to 
enter the civil condition, and inevitably passes over into it. 
Naturally he is out of society, but inevitably he comes in. 

Man's indifference to civil society was, then;, only tempor- 
ary, and for purely philosophical purposes. Assuming that 
man exists naturally out of society and independent of all con- 
trol, he enters the state only through the gateway of the social 
contract. His voluntary and conditional entrance makes pos- 
sible agreement and counter-agreement, with those possibili- 
ties of broken contract, upon which the philosophy of resist- 
ance rested: and, indeed, upon which the modern system of 
constitutionally protected private rights is based. 

Without the doctrine of the " consent of the governed " in 
its various forms, it would not have been easy to justify re- 
bellion against the powers of absolutism, intrenched as they 
were behind the bulwarks of custom and divine right. Had 
there been no pre-political state of nature, had political life 
been considered as natural as other parts of human existence, 
there need have been no> contract, no terms of agreement with 
the government, no right of resistance when the conditions 
were broken by the ruler. If government had been natural, 
obedience to it would have been natural ; resistance, unnatural 
and abhorrent. 

Viewed in this way, the doctrine of the state of nature was 
the corner-stone upon which the revolutionary philosophy 


rested. Perhaps some other stone would have been found and 
used, had this not been at hand; but, already quarried by the 
ecclesiastical revolutionists of the preceding - century, it was 
admirably adapted to the needs of the political revolutionists 
as well. 

To sum up, then : first, Hobbes' doctrine of the state of nature 
as a state of war was not an original concept, but an applica- 
tion of the Puritan idea of the general depravity of human 
nature to political speculation. Second, although Hobbes taught 
that man was not by nature a political animal, he held that 
both instinct and reason' impelled him to be political — which 
was much the same thing. Third, Hobbes' doctrine of the state 
of nature was a part of the Naturrecht philosophy which 
made this theory a foundation for the whole philosophy of 
obedience and disobedience to government. It was a philoso- 
phical device for justifying revolution, although Hobbes did 
not so employ or intend it.